Published 8/3/2018

Avoid pain from backpacks this school year

Orthopaedic surgeons offer backpack safety tips to keep you safe 

As kids begin the new school year, it’s important to remember that heavy backpacks can be the source of back, neck and shoulder-related pain in children and teenagers. Parents and guardians should ensure children aren’t carrying a heavy load and that backpacks are being worn correctly for proper posture and even weight distribution.
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), in 2016, emergency departments, doctors’ offices and clinics treated 35,937 people for backpack-related injuries.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) encourages children and their parents to consider safety tips to help reduce their risk of injury.
“Make sure your child is only carrying the essentials to lessen their load,” said AAOS spokesperson and orthopaedic spine surgeon Joshua C. Patt, MD. “In addition to a light load, it’s important backpacks have two wide, padded shoulder straps to improve comfort and promote good posture.”
The AAOS recommends the following backpack safety tips:
  • Always use both shoulder straps when carrying a backpack. The correct use of both wide, well-padded shoulder straps will help distribute the weight of the backpack more evenly across the child’s back.
  • A crossbody bag can also be a good alternative for carrying books and supplies.
  • Tighten the straps to keep the load closer to the back.
  • Organize the items: pack heavier things low and towards the center.
  • Pack light, removing items if the backpack is too heavy. Carry only those items that are required for the day, and if possible, leave unnecessary books at home or school.
  • When picking up a backpack, lift properly by bending at the knees
Parents also can help with backpack-related matters:
  • Encourage your child or teenager to tell you about numbness, tingling, or discomfort in the arms or legs, which may indicate poor backpack fit or too much weight.
  • Watch your child put on or take off the backpack to see if it is a struggle. If the backpack seems too heavy for the child, have them remove some of the books and carry them in their arms to ease load on the back.
  • Do not ignore any back pain in a child or teenager.
  • Talk to the school about lightening the load. Team up with other parents to encourage changes.
  • Encourage your child to stop at his or her locker when time permits throughout the day to drop off or exchange heavier books.
More Information about the AAOS
With more than 38,000 members, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons is the world’s largest medical association of musculoskeletal specialists. The AAOS provides educational programs for orthopaedic surgeons and allied health professionals, champions and advances the highest quality musculoskeletal care for patients, and is the authoritative source of information on bone and joint conditions, treatments and related issues. 
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